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$50 TO BURN IN HOLLYWOOD

Their humor comes at nobody's expense

Upright Citizens Brigade provides more improv than you pay for.

September 07, 2006|Tatiana Simonian | Special to The Times

FACE it, any comedy show labeled as "free" might be cause for skepticism -- as if comedy shows in general don't make you squeamish. You fear being trapped in that abyss of awkward silence when a joke bombs, and suddenly you're hoping for a quick exit before empathy kicks in.

However on a recent Sunday evening, my friend and I decided to risk it and check out the free improv comedy show "Asssscat!" at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on Franklin Avenue.

For dinner, we hit up the French bistro La Poubelle next door. Although frequently chided for its hipster clientele, as well as being incredibly loud and crowded, the restaurant on this Sunday instead proved the perfect place to catch up. Our hunger was satiated, and there was no need to worry about offending nearby diners with our off-color humor.

Then the moment of truth had arrived -- and nearly passed us by. We arrived 20 minutes before show time, yet a long line had already formed. Suddenly we weren't wondering whether the show would be funny, but whether we would get in. The throng, a combination of hip twentysomethings and boho teenagers in their thrift-store finest, mingled comfortably. For once, waiting in line was almost entertaining.

Inside the simple theater, the vibe was laid-back. The audience chatted freely until the moment the lights went down. Then Matt Besser and Ian Roberts, original cast members of the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show, began the evening with an improv dialogue with the audience, followed by a request for a one-word theme to give to the night's guest monologist.

What ensued were short autobiographical monologues about subjects as varied as pomegranates and sex followed by unbelievably funny sketches improvised off the tales. Besser and Roberts, along with castmates Andrew Daly and Sean Conroy, were sharp, prone to teasing one another and intimidatingly hilarious.

Even a mid-show request for donations from the audience turned into a sketch as Besser sarcastically asked that the lights be turned off so everyone would feel "comfortable" coughing up their donation

When the lights came up, the donation turned out to be a few meager sticks of gum. The audience laughed like mischievous pranksters, Besser scolded us like a dad who would probably buy beer for a high schooler, and, well, our notions of free comedy stood corrected.

Tatiana Simonian may be reached at weekend@ latimes.com.

*

The tab

Comedy Free

What: "Asssscat!," Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 908-8702. Every Sunday. www.ucbtheatre.com/la.

Dinner $45

What: Dinner for two, including wine, bread, spinach crepe and penne with vodka sauce entrees, La Poubelle, 5907 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 465-0807.

Total $45

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